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HRFN´s Global Conference

A group of eight people of varying races and gender presentations stand together in a line facing the camera. Many of them are smiling. Behind them is a projection screen.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece]

Intro

From 24-26 April 2024, HRFN hosted its Funding Futures Festival in Tbilisi, Georgia. The Festival brought together more than 350 human rights funders from around the world for three days of nurturing collaborations, building shared analysis, and sparking philanthropic action to support those fighting the world’s most urgent intersecting crises.

HRFN’s 2024 Festival took place during a moment of rage and resistance globally.

In 2024, movements around the world are challenging war and genocides, histories of colonialism, rising authoritarianism, displacement, ever-worsening climate crisis, and more. From global student movements in support of Palestine to resistance against foreign intervention in Haiti to the protesting against the construction of an oil pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania.

As we met in Tbilisi, we also witnessed a wave of action from local Georgian movements protesting regressive legislation designed to silence civil society, limit women’s political power, and target LGBTQI communities.

Amidst these severe intersecting crises regionally and globally, funders are called to show up for movements in meaningful ways. For philanthropy, it is a pivotal moment to improve coordination and collaboration, start strategic conversations within institutions, and invest in communities over war. The Funding Futures Festival was a critical opportunity for funders to gather and to create real systemic change in philanthropy.

FESTIVAL IN NUMBERS

390 participants
180 institutions/organizations

72 countries

38 member-led strategy sessions

23 rapidfire presentations
25 member-led exhibitions
6 site visits to/led by local organizations
10 scholarships to Global South and East funders
8 partner-led gatherings
68 solidarity rate registrations

GROUNDING IN THE REGION

We organized the first day of the Festival in collaboration with Ariadne and Women’s Fund Georgia. It was held on 24 April, the last day of Ariadne’s Annual Conference, and brought together attendees from both conferences. The program was guided by a group of advisors from Georgia and Armenia who informed both the vision and content.

To deepen attendees’ understanding of the Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central and North Asia (CEECCNA) region and its connection to global issues, we centered the day on the region’s history, voices, and movements. This approach fostered a strong sense of place and helped attendees connect the local context to their own work and grantees’ experiences.

A large group of people stand together outdoors at a protest. In the foreground, several people are holding a large gray banner that includes a Georgian flag. Many people in the rest of the crowd are also carrying signs and/or Georgian flags. All of the text on the signs is in Georgian.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

Georgia and CEECCNA Regional Context

As we gathered in Tbilisi, organizers in Georgia protested against a law requiring Georgian NGOs and media organizations that receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.” In recent years, similar laws aimed at shrinking space for civil society and increasing state control have been adopted across the CEECCNA region, including in Kyrgyzstan (March 2024) and Belarus (2021). The law passed in Georgia amidst a series of other concerning legislation that has not only limited civil society but also the political power of women and LGBTQI communities, causing a surge of mobilizations in protest.

Take action

In response to these laws, local and regional organizations such as Dalan Fund, Women’s Fund in Georgia, and Taso Foundation issued calls for international solidarity from philanthropy to amplify the context and demands of Georgian civil society.

Throughout the Festival, we uplifted the work of funds based in the region, particularly in Georgia. We call on funders to stay informed and continue mobilizing to support human rights movements in the region.

Recognizing the Armenian Genocide and its Global Connections

Our joint day with Ariadne and Women’s Fund in Georgia fell on a significant date: 24 April, the 109th Armenian Genocide Recognition Day. The Festival incorporated a special session acknowledging the Armenian Genocide that featured personal stories from activists and a shrine/altar where attendees could reflect, grieve, and commit to action. This moment met our responsibility to highlight the painful and resilient histories of the region and its people. At this session, attendees also heard from Rawa Fund’s Soheir Asad, who helped connect the history of the Armenian genocide to the current genocide in Palestine and emphasized the importance of supporting movements that are creating futures without genocide and oppression.

Plenary: Unraveling a Complex Tapestry: Lived Realities of Resistance, Struggle, and Solidarity in Caucasus, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe

The first day of the Festival included a plenary unraveling the beautiful yet complex tapestry that is the CEECCNA region. Speakers with deep experience in the region discussed the regional context, including the stories and information that often escapes Western media and attention. They also explored possibilities for connection and solidarity with movements globally, including Indigenous movements, Palestinian liberation movements, and more.

Speakers:

Lara Aharonian
(she/her), Armenia, Women’s Fund Armenia
Tony Snizhko
(they/them), Belarus, Mama Cash
Altynay Kambekova
(she/her), Kazakhstan, Digital Defenders Partnership
Moderator: Mariam Gagoshashvili
(she/her), Georgia, Independent Gender Justice Consultant
Four people sit side-by-side in chairs on a stage. They are wearing headsets with microphones, and behind them is a projection screen that seems to feature their names and headshots. One of them is facing the audience and appears to be in the middle of speaking. The other three are turned towards the person who is speaking and seem to be listening intently.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

Site Visits

Georgian organizations led participants on-site visits to deepen their understanding of local and regional histories of resistance. Attendees had the opportunity to listen directly to local organizations and understand the diverse challenges impacting Tbilisi and Georgia, from gender justice to climate justice, the powerful movements that already exist in the region, and how those movements operate even with little or limited funding.

A person in a white shirt and blazer stands outside. They are holding sunglasses and a phone, and have headphones in their ears. They are looking off to the right and smiling, their expression full of emotion.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

A group of people of varying races and gender presentations stands outside on concrete, colorful graffiti covering the walls around them. They are standing roughly in a circle, and appear to be engaged in a conversation.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

Four people sit together at a table with laptops and glasses of water in front of them. One of them appears to be facing an audience and speaking, while the other three are looking at the person speaking or down at the table, listening.

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Tbilisi Feminist Walking Tour

The Tbilisi Feminist Walking Tour explored Tbilisi’s hidden feminist heritage and recent feminist past, from the end of the 19th century to today. It also included a documentary screening of “10 Years of Feminist Activism,” which tells the story of Georgian feminist group Independent Group of Feminists (IGF).

Resisting Authoritarian Regimes and Anti-gender Movements in the CEECCNA Regions

During this site visit, human rights funders and regional social justice activists highlighted connections between rapidly rising authoritarianism, anti-gender, and anti-democracy movements throughout the CEECCNA region. It included space for funders to strategize on how to proactively invest in the prevention of further regional crises.

Wild Rose Audio Walk: A City Tour through a Transgender Lens

In this site visit, four transgender people from Tbilisi took attendees through a portion of the city, highlighting the contradictions of the city’s culture and challenging them to look at the city from a different perspective.

Human Rights in Flux: Exploring Georgia's Controversial Policies for Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and 'Foreign Agents Law'

Participants in this site visit met with the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) to learn about the country's human rights situation, with a special emphasis on freedom of expression and assembly, as well as their connections to the “foreign agents law.”

Leading the Fight for Environmental Justice in Georgia

In this site visit, local environmental justice organizations addressed major challenges in the Georgian environmental, climate, and human rights sectors. They also highlighted the potential environmental justice movements have to address multiple intersecting challenges and interests.

Georgia’s Totalitarian Past and Resistance (1873-1992): City Walking Tour

This walking tour took participants on a journey through Georgian modern history, diving into key moments both from Georgia’s totalitarian past and from its resistance movements.
A close up of two people wearing sunglasses and conference lanyards. They are outside and appear to be walking. Both have headphones in their ears, and they are smiling.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

A person in a white button up shirt with a beard stands facing the camera, their hands in the middle of signing. In front of them is an audience of seated people facing away from the camera. Behind the person in the center of the photo is a lit up projection screen.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

People of varying races and gender presentations are seated in rows in a conference room. They are all looking off to the side and appear to be listening closely.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

Plenary: Weaving connections between the crises and forms of resistance that are shaping the global landscape for human rights

This plenary on our second day highlighted the interconnectedness of global crises. A panel of philanthropic community members working in regions like Palestine, Ukraine, and Sudan articulated connections between these and other liberation movements worldwide. They analyzed the regional and global implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, particularly their connection to anti-gender ideologies and threats to LGBTQI rights. They also addressed the critical work of Black Feminist Action for Sudan amidst philanthropy’s silence and inaction, and explored what it means for philanthropy to stand in solidarity with Palestine in the current genocide.

Speakers:

Cynthia Eyakuze,
Equality Fund
Soheir Asaad,
Rawa Fund and Funding Freedom
Anna Kirey,
RFSL
Moderator: Uma Mishra,
FRIDA Young Feminist Fund
Two people sit together, one facing the camera, and the other facing away from the camera, towards the second person. The one facing the camera is holding a microphone and appears to be speaking. They are Black, have closely cropped blonde hair, and are wearing glasses, colorful jewelry, and a yellow and orange patterned shirt or dress.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress with a large, white head piece and gold jewelry smiling at the camera while holding her phone up]

Take action?

In response to the law, local and regional organizations such as Dalan Fund, Women’s Fund in Georgia, and Taso Foundation issued calls for international solidarity from philanthropy to amplify the context and demands of Georgian civil society. They also called for funders to “give unrestricted long-term funding to mechanisms and the funds in, for, and in front of the regions,” giving those funds the power “to make decisions on how, to whom, and in what shape the funds get distributed.”

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BUILDING
COLLABORATIVE
PHILANTHROPIC STRATEGIES

Building relationships across geographies, experiences, and portfolios is at the core of being a global network and sparking meaningful social change. The Funding Futures Festival creates opportunities for funders to do just that–and this year was no different. In the midst of challenging global contexts, from war and genocide to climate crisis to attacks on women and LGBTQI people, gatherings like the Festival are critical to share learnings, build solidarity, and strategize about how to better support movements.

Here are just a few of the powerful collaborative spaces attendees created this year, both to address the key challenges movements are facing, and to foster new philanthropic approaches.

Coordination meeting: Global Philanthropy Project’s meeting on Responding to Anti-Gender Ideology (RAGI)

On 24 April, Global Philanthropy Project (GPP) hosted a gathering of over 100 funders to help shape the philanthropic response to anti-gender ideology and anti-rights movements, which are growing and gaining power globally. During the meeting, GPP shared learnings from their research into anti-gender and anti-rights movements around the world, and the impact these right-wing efforts are having on feminist and LGBTQI movements. They also created space for funders to strategize together about how to support movements that are working to stop these oppressive right-wing efforts.

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A zoomed out shot of a conference room, featuring four round tables each with several people sitting at them. On the tables are notebooks, flyers, and other materials.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

Celebration: What's the point of the revolution if we can't dance?

On 26 April, we hosted an evening of storytelling and dancing in collaboration with Stories of Girls’ Resistance, Giuvlipen Theatre Company, Our Collective Practice, and Urgent Action Sister Funds, four organizations that collaborate closely with artists and cultural workers. Art is a form of resistance, survival, healing, and a political agenda against the systems seeking to erase our very existence, making it pivotal to any social change gathering. Grounded in the power and revolutionary force of feminist art and storytelling, the evening included multiple ways to interact, from immersive exhibits to performances to dancing. It highlighted how important art and culture–as well as joy and celebration–are to social change.

Three people sit together at a table. They are facing each other and appear to be in conversation. The table has water bottles, notebooks, flyers and other materials covering its surface.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

In the foreground, two people are hugging. The one facing the camera has a big smile. In the background, an onlooker is facing the huggers and smiling. A sign taped to the wall in the background says the word “Justice.”

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

Three people pose side-by-side facing the camera, their arms around each other. They are all smiling brightly.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

A person in a dress with puffy shoulders sits on a tall seat. Their eyes are closed and they are holding a microphone, in the middle of speaking or singing. Behind them, a second person in a button up denim shirt stands at a DJ table. The lighting is pink, casting a glow on the contents of the photo.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.

A large group of people are seated together facing a stage, where someone is seated with a microphone. There is colorful lighting, casting pink, purple, and orange glows over parts of the photo.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

Spaces for funders to do cross-collaboration

As funders who hope to shift global systems and power structures, none of us can do this work alone. Even as we take different approaches, our collaborations are our strength. This idea is at the heart of the Funding Futures Festival. We helped to foster this collaboration by offering attendees the space to share learnings and spark their own conversations through discovery journeys and lightning talks.

Discovery Journeys were dynamic spaces for strategic discussion. Topics this year included feminist crisis response, thinking critically about “localizing” human rights, integrating holistic support of environmental protectors, sex worker movement-building, and much more.
Image on Right Side: A person with shoulder-length dark hair, jewelry, and a dark blue shirt or dress holds up a large piece of paper covered in several different colors of post-it. At the top of the paper is the word “Challenge.” Image on Left Side: A close up of a presentation screen. It features a globe with oceans in black and land in white. The continents in the bottom half of the globe are filled in with a blue gradient.. Big bold text next to the globe says, “We focus our global grantmaking in the Global South and the margins of access to funding.”

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Lightning Talks were rapidfire presentations on pressing issues, including the under-resourcing of disability justice, funder collaboration to stop spyware, and reducing the trust gap in funding for Central Asia, just to name a few!

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

The Open Gallery was a lively exhibition for funders to display inspiring projects that support and transform global human rights philanthropy.
Image on Right Side: A photo of a printed photo that is hung on a wire grid. The printed photo features two women sitting together facing each other. One is wearing a bright blue dress and orange scarf, her long dark hair tied back. The other is wearing a colorful red and purple head scarf over a black dress. Image on Left Side: Several people stand in pairs and small groups in a large and bright indoor space. In the foreground to the right, two people are standing beside a table looking together at a flier. A third person is approaching the table holding a flier. Two people in the background are facing each other and appear to be in the middle of conversation.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.]

Moving Forward

The Festival’s first day on April 24 was a joint day between Ariadne’s 2024 Annual Conference and HRFN’s Funding Futures Festival. This collaboration brought together attendees of both conferences and nurtured global linkages across both networks. Ariadne and HRFN co-hosted the day in collaboration with Women’s Fund Georgia, who provided powerful guidance, along with a group of advisors from both Georgia and Armenia, on hosting both conferences in Tbilisi.

To ground attendees in the Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central and North Asia (CEECCNA) region they were in, as well as how it ties into the global context, Ariade, HRFN, and Women’s Fund Georgia chose to center the day on the history, voices, and movements of the CEECCNA region. This fostered deeper connections with the Festival’s location, and helped attendees tie that into their own and grantees’ contexts.

[image description: a woman in a colorful red, orange, yellow, and purple pattered dress.

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